THIS STORY HAS BEEN FORMATTED FOR EASY PRINTING

Lester shows little rust in return

By Nicole Auerbach
Globe Correspondent / July 26, 2011

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Jon Lester had waited 20 days to pitch in a major league game. What was another 2 hours and 21 minutes?

After a steady rain delayed the start of last night’s Red Sox game against the Kansas City Royals at Fenway Park, Lester took the mound for the first time since July 5, when he strained his left latissimus.

Despite the stint on the disabled list and the rain delay, the lefthander looked sharp early. Through the first five innings, he didn’t let a runner get past second as the Sox clung to a 1-0 lead courtesy of a Josh Reddick second-inning RBI double.

In the sixth, however, Lester’s luck turned.

As Lester’s pitch count neared 80 - the magic number manager Terry Francona mentioned during his pregame news conference - Melky Cabrera singled to lead off the inning, and he scored on a double by Billy Butler.

After Lester walked Eric Hosmer, Francona took him out. Lester finished with 89 pitches, 55 strikes. He walked 2, struck out 6, and allowed 7 hits to get a no-decision in Kansas City’s 3-1 win in 14 innings.

“It’s kind of stating the obvious that we’re really excited to have him back,’’ Francona said before the game. “Physically, there’s no issues there, which is really good. Hopefully we can get him back, get him in a rhythm, and turn him loose because guys have done a great job filling in for him - but you need guys like Lester.’’

The crowd - the part that waited out the rain delay - showed Lester its appreciation. When he exited, he received a standing ovation.

The strong return of Lester, who is 10-4, could be crucial to the Sox’ second-half success.

When Lester was on the disabled list along with Clay Buchholz (lower back strain), the rotation had to be patched together with Triple A call-ups Andrew Miller and Kyle Weiland.

But as Francona said, there aren’t many Lesters out there.

“Obviously, every start is important, but there’s a lot more after this, too,’’ Francona said. “We want to build off of this.’’

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